Category Archives: The Survivors

The Survivors: Part Five

Delìrivm Còrdia

I only listened to this once. I’m pretty sure it’s the only CD in my collection that’s true of. I was so freaked out by it that I just couldn’t go back to it. (This is a concept album meant to evoke the feeling of undergoing surgery while awake, or some shit.) Now that I’m writing this I feel I should revisit it, if only to remember what I was so put off by. 
Measure of gratitude: Greater than zero. Thank you. 

Ella Fitzgerald
The Cole Porter Songbook, Vol. 2

This is the only one of Ella’s iconic songbook recordings I had. (The past tense is still weird, I’ll likely be inconsistent with that.) I’ve heard all of them at some point, but this Cole Porter set is the one I know best, and therefore like best. But it is pretty nuts that there’s one singer who recorded such a huge chunk of the Great American Songbook and managed to get definitive takes of most of it. 
Measure of gratitude: Substantial. Thank you. 

Robert Fripp

I’ve arrived at a point where I like this better than any of the King Crimson albums. King Crimson is a band for people who like their music in cogent, internally logical helpings: albums full of songs that complement and build on each other. This is the opposite of that. It’s Fripp in Eno mode, gathering whatever musicians he thought might be interesting at a given time, making whatever music with them happens to come out, and shoving it all on one disc together. It’s magic. You get instrumental prog with virtuoso bass playing from Tony Levin. You get Peter Hammill shouting his throat out like the proto-punk he doesn’t get enough credit for being. You get Peter Gabriel at the piano, singing the definitive rendition of “Here Comes the Flood.” You get another Peter Gabriel song without Gabriel singing, but with Terre Roche and Brian Eno. And depending on which version of the album you listen to, you get a whole lot of Darryl Hall, the last person you’d expect. It’s one of the wildest albums ever made, and nobody else could have possibly wrangled it together so effectively. 
Measure of gratitude: Immense. Thank you. 

Fripp & Eno
(No Pussyfooting)

This falls at an early moment in Eno’s ambient music career. I group it alongside the album “Discreet Music,” which also predates his creative breakthrough on “Music for Airports.” It’s fine, and my special edition also contains a bonus track that’s just a full side of it played backwards. Evidently John Peel played it on BBC Radio that way by mistake, which is a story I like better than the actual album. 
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you. 

Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel (1)
Peter Gabriel (2)
Peter Gabriel (3)
Scratch My Back
New Blood
Big Blue Ball (with various artists)

Peter Gabriel is the only music I’ve ever lost in a breakup. There was a time when this body of work meant more to me than any other music. It is unique in my life for the extent to which it is tied up with my outer life and not just my inner one. As I’ve been going through all of these artists, it’s been interesting to note that I don’t associate many of them (trumpet-related music aside) with specific memories from my own life experience, but rather with abstract notions of how I was thinking at any given time. In general, music isn’t something I share with people: it’s a treasured private experience. It’s one of the ways I converse with myself. Peter Gabriel was, briefly, an exception to that. The events in question have long faded from consequence, and these days Peter Gabriel’s music is just another corridor from one bit of my brain to another, same as anybody else on this list. But there may always be something slightly different about my relationship with this music than with any other music, because for a moment it filled a different role. 
Measure of gratitude: Incalculable. Thank you. 

Marvin Gaye
What’s Going On

I’ve never liked this as much as I wish I did. Obviously it’s full of incredible singing. But Marvin Gaye has never resonated with me the same way as other Motown artists like Stevie Wonder and even less gigantic figures like Smokey Robinson. I can only imagine how shattering it must have been in its day, though. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

1970-1975 (13-disc box)

A couple years ago a friend and I decided to score every Genesis song out of 50 points, divided up into a hyper-specific rubric. It took us until a couple months ago to finish, and it is one of the nerdiest things I’ve ever done. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my brain is about 40 percent full of theories about Genesis. I’ve been thinking about this band for twenty years now, and this lavish box set is part of what set me on the trail. It is a daily miracle that I’m not constantly telling passersby about how “Domino” is a spiritual sequel to “Supper’s Ready” even though you’d never know it since one of them is a Peter Gabriel-fronted prog rock classic and the other is Phil Collins singing 80s electro-pop but you see they both are about couples living through the apocalypse and they both make significant reference to television in ways that I feel are really demonstrative of the difference between the band’s two eras and isn’t it unexpected that it’s Gabriel turning the television of and seeking an unmediated experience of the world thereby presenting as the sincere one in this context while Collins the surprising ironist remains blasé sitting in front of the news. *big breath* I’ll write that essay one day, but this isn’t the time. 
Measure of gratitude: Staggering. Thank you. 

Gentle Giant
In A Glass House
Free Hand
Playing the Fool

Gentle Giant deserves their reputation for being the most pointy headed of all the major British prog bands, but they don’t get enough credit for being super fun. It’s good-natured music made by people drunk on their own ability to write and play the really hard shit. Playing the Fool is maybe the best live album ever made. I get why people don’t like prog, but occasionally you meet somebody who’s actually angry about it and I feel like they should really just pay more attention to Gentle Giant. 
Measure of gratitude: Huge. Thank you. 

Philip Glass
Heroes Symphony/The Light (Marin Alsop, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra)

I’ve played this on the radio so many goddamn times, mainly to give myself an opportunity to write about David Bowie on classical shows. But honestly it isn’t Glass’s best work. It renders Bowie’s music a little bit sterile. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

Glenn Gould
The Young Maverick
The Radio Artist

Gould is mostly filed under other composers in my collection. These are two big sets from CBC Records, one of which has old scratchy CBC recordings of a young Gould playing a pretty massive range of music from Bach to Berg. The other contains his radio work, which is so bonkers you can hardly believe it happened in Canada. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you.

The Survivors: Part Four

As I write this, I have finally done it. I’ve gone through with the plan. I packed the vast majority of the Survivors into a wheely duffel bag. I wheeled them through the snow. I left them overnight at a shop. And I accepted an offer for the full collection that far exceeded my expectations. The bulk of the Survivors survive no longer. (Now it’s just the classical stuff. God knows how I’ll offload all that garbage.) I’ll continue my reminiscences and expressions of gratitude in their absence. Good night, sweet princelings. 

Deep Purple
Made in Japan

Of the three great British proto-metal bands of the early 70s, Led Zeppelin is my uncontroversial favourite. I could honestly take or leave both Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. But for a moment there, Deep Purple satisfied a need. I always love hearing their influence come out in later bands like the Decemberists and Opeth (though the latter has taken this influence a little too far in recent years). But this live album is almost unlistenably of its time. What do the 70s sound like? Nothing more than this. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

Dr. John
The Very Best of Dr. John

We were a blues-first household for a good five years or so of my childhood. Dr. John was one of the artists in that milieu that I really latched onto, such that I’m about 75 percent sure I was the one who bought this. Since he died, I’ve bought a couple of his full albums: the high-concept swamp freakout Gris-Gris and the New Orleans funk masterpiece In the Right Place. This compilation represents both of them, plus his marvellous solo piano recordings from later in his career. It was a nice overview, and reading the tracklist makes me wish more people would check him out. 
Measure of gratitude: Very substantial. Thank you. 

Bob Dylan
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Bringing it All Back Home
Highway 61 Revisited
Blood on the Tracks
The Basement Tapes (with The Band)

In recent years my tastes have moved further in the direction of acoustic/indie songwriter music than ever before. As this change has occurred, I find myself more and more enamoured of Blood on the Tracks and less and less tolerant of pretty much everything else Bob Dylan ever did. Blood on the Tracks is a masterpiece of directness. None of the songs on it can be pinned down to a single, stable interpretation, BUT, they are songs that prioritize clarity. It’s clear what is actually transpiring in each song, even if they do leave tantalizing blanks and inconsistencies for interpreters to fill in. By contrast, big swathes of Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde (which I’m a little surprised to find is not here among the Survivors) seem deliberately obtuse and obfuscatory. It’s remarkable to me that one songwriter can so completely define two styles of songwriting, one of which I adore and the other of which I have less and less patience for. 
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you. 

Miles Davis
Collector’s Edition (Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’)
Kind of Blue
Sketches of Spain
In a Silent Way
Bitches Brew
A Tribute to Jack Johnson
On the Corner

In my trumpet playing days, Miles Davis became a sort of personal totem for me. I was learning tone production on the trumpet as a matter of efficiency and blend: play in such a way that you’ll be able to physically sustain it, and so that it’ll work well with what everybody else is doing. It’s an awkward thing to resent, because it’s ultimately very sound advice, and a worthwhile metaphor for how to live generally. But as an 18-year-old musician, you have all these big ideas about ~expression~ and ~not compromising~. So I listened obsessively to Miles Davis, definitely one of the weakest technical players in the history of jazz. His famously quiet sound cracks frequently from inadequate air support, and he would have had to stay at Juilliard a little longer if he wanted to blend with an orchestra. None of this is why I liked Miles Davis. It wasn’t just me being defiant or perverse. But the fact that I loved him in spite of the fact that his playing contravened everything I was learning was certainly powerful. Nowadays, I find some of Miles’ playing even harder to take than I did back then. (I listened to the Plugged Nickel recordings for the first time last year and almost didn’t make it through because of Miles’ soloing.) But I can still revisit this music and find it absolutely visionary. In a Silent Way hits me harder now than ever. And while I sympathise with Robert Christgau’s fear that Sketches of Spain represented a gentrification of jazz, I still think it’s one of the most dramatic and satisfying jazz albums of all. 
Measure of gratitude: Massive. Thank you. 

Claude Debussy
Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Images etc. (Pierre Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra)

Debussy is the shit. I feel as though people are realising this more. Even if it’s only “Clair de Lune,” he has been cropping up in unexpected places lately: video games, podcasts, Vulfpeck, etc. These days I like him best for his piano music, but it was his symphonic works that I loved first. Images for Orchestra is a wonderful and slightly underrated set of pieces–I like it easily as much as La Mer. I have become more and more sceptical of the classical canon over the last decade, but it’s been nice to go through some of these old CDs and realise that there are at least a few of the big names that I like more than I used to. Debussy is certainly one. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Mike Downes
The Winds of Change

Some surprisingly good jazz musicians came to Fort McMurray to do workshops with the high school students. I almost always bought their CDs. Some of them are pretty good, including this one, though I haven’t heard it for years. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Funeral for a Friend
What’s Going On

The Dirty Dozen were New Orleans’ preeminent brass band for a generation. That doesn’t mean that they can pull off a full-album cover of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On with rappers. But Funeral for a Friend finds them in their element, playing the New Orleans funeral classics that make New Orleans jazz such an amazing musical tradition. It’s a hidden gem of an album that I really think everybody should hear. I don’t even care if you like jazz. At least listen to the first track. It’s shattering. 
Measure of gratitude: Very large. Thank you. 

Kenny Dorham
Quiet Kenny

One of many CDs I purchased on a whim during the hottest heat of my jazz madness. No doubt I bought it at a store in Edmonton that’s been closed for a decade. Kenny Dorham is an underrated name in jazz. But I’d be lying if I said I remember anything on this except for “Lotus Blossom,” which is one of the most irresistible jazz tunes of its era. 
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you. 

Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Brain Salad Surgery

Other ELP classics didn’t survive the first cull. I know I used to have Tarkus and Trilogy on CD as well, both of which are at least equal to Brain Salad Surgery in my opinion. But this was the album that first sold me on ELP. I have fond memories of listening to this straight through, including to the documentary at the end where Keith Emerson says something like “Brain Salad Surgery was the last album before I embarked on an orchestral… crusade, if you like.” What a magnificent jackass. His playing on the classic ELP records is reason enough to look past everything wrong with them. I still have trouble believing Carl Palmer’s the only one left alive. 
Measure of gratitude: Immense. Thank you. 

Duke Ellington
Black, Brown, & Beige (with Mahalia Jackson)
The Essential Duke Ellington

My university jazz band did an annual concert focussing on old big band hits by folks like Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Harry James, etc. It was always kind of a bummer, because so much of that music sounds the goddamn same. Then, one magical year, the jazz profs decided we’d exclusively play music by Duke Ellington. If you’ve never considered just how different Duke’s music was from the hitmakers who got their start a few years later, I implore you to have another listen. His music is wall-to-wall surprises. It’s early in the history of big bands, but nobody ever did it better. Or as good. Or nearly as good.
Measure of gratitude: Massive. Thank you. 

Bill Evans
The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961

These recordings are better known in rendered-down form as the single LPs Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby. But I got to know them in this utilitarian three-disc set, which simply plays the sessions in the order they happened. I can hardly imagine it any other way. Magic. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you.

The Survivors: Part Three

John Cage
Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (John Tilbury)

Late in high school I made a point of getting into the most bizarre shit imaginable. With the aid of the internet, I sought out the strangest music from all of the genres I liked. In retrospect, what I actually found was just the most famously strange music that multiple genres had to offer. Captain Beefheart in the rock section. Ornette Coleman in the jazz section. And John Cage for classical music. These pieces are perhaps his most accessible music. The only thing bizarre about them is that there’s a bunch of bullshit stuck in the piano, which makes the notes sound not just tonally different but sometimes actually a different pitch from the notated one, so Cage’s notated chords are impossible to analyze on the score. Not that you’d know that from listening: when you don’t have the score in front of you it’s just fun, slightly odd-sounding music. John Tilbury’s performance is wonderful in my opinion, and he’s a personality I’d encounter again many years later as the biographer of Cornelius Cardew, a figure I find as compelling as Cage in his way. 
Measure of gratitude: Very large. Thank you. 

John Cale
The Island Years

I never could get into this. It’s a collection of Cale’s first three albums for Island, including the massively beloved Fear, plus Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy. One of the most substantial writing challenges I’ve ever set for myself was making an episode of my podcast about Fear, an album about which much has been written and about which I have nothing new to say. I have had this for nearly half my life, and it is perhaps the thing in my collection that I’ve had for the longest without ever warming to. Someday. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

A Live Record

Of the B-tier British prog bands, Camel is my least favourite. It’s perfectly pleasant, but I find it pretty simple and unsurprising, especially considering how long some of the tracks wear on. This live album has some stuff on it that I don’t mind, including vocal performances by Richard Sinclair, who’s in a couple other bands I like better (see immediately below) and the material from Rain Dances works especially well. I dunno. It’s fine, I guess. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

In the Land of Grey and Pink
For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night

Caravan was my entry point into the Canterbury scene and I’m thankful to them for that, even if they’re not my favourite of those bands anymore. In the Land of Grey and Pink is a really fun album that I wish had better solos. Great chords, fun song structures, mediocre soloing. For Girls Who Grow Plump is a little better in that regard. These days I prefer the stranger pastures of the Canterbury scene, particularly Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt, Steve Hillage and Caravan’s bizarre little brother Hatfield and the North. But these two albums were a fantastic and gentle introduction. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Johnny Cash
American III: Solitary Man
American V: A Hundred Highways

When my workplace was offloading a bunch of CDs, I took a big pile of stuff I’d meant to listen to but hadn’t ever gotten to, including these two random volumes of Johnny Cash’s famous Rick Rubin collaborations. I’ve only listened to each of them once apiece, which is a shame because they’re as good as people say. 
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you. 

The Chemical Brothers
Dig Your Own Hole

A friend made me listen to the Chemical Brothers for a dumb blog from a bygone time and it actually stuck. This isn’t my favourite of theirs. Probably not in my top three. But it does rip ass pretty hard in a few places. 
Measure of gratitude: Substantial. Thank you. 

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass

One of the less regrettable brass porn recordings I bought during music school. The CSO has a famously good (and famously loud) brass section. This is just that section, playing arrangements of music that was originally for all sorts of configurations, from solo violin to full symphony orchestra. I’m not sure all of these arrangements justify their existence, but there are some real highlights here, and bear in mind that I still remember those moments after not listening to this for a decade. The arrangement of the Bach passacaglia is fantastic. And the opening of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet excels the symphonic arrangement because that massive build comes out of instruments that are timbrally similar, allowing each sound to build on the last instead of broadening the palette. Good shit. 
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you. 

Ornette Coleman
The Shape of Jazz to Come

Never really got into this. I like other free jazz records (though I’m not convinced that’s the best label for this). I like Don Cherry’s Complete Communion just fine. Late Coltrane is wonderful. But this strikes me as sort of pointy-headed and not very expressive. Some albums I don’t get and hope to eventually come around to. With this I honestly don’t care. 
Measure of gratitude: Negligible. Thank you. 

Tyler Collins

A self-released CD by a friend of mine from high school that I used to play in a band with. He’d moved past this by the time we started playing together and I imagine he’d be mortified to even remember its existence. I thought it was alright. Nevertheless, because of the experience of playing in that band: 
Measure of gratitude: Massive. Thank you. 

John Coltrane
Giant Steps
A Love Supreme

Every high school jazz nerd must get really into John Coltrane, these are the rules. Frankly, I hope those rules continue to apply forever because Coltrane is the shit. Giant Steps was never really my style, though Coltrane’s playing is incredible. But A Love Supreme and Meditations completely floored me and still do. Meditations is the jazz album that I most wish would become a household name. It has beautiful playing from Coltrane’s classic quartet (especially McCoy Tyner, who gets a magnificent unaccompanied solo that might be his best recorded moment), plus completely unhinged performances by young lions Pharoah Sanders and Rashied Ali. I listened to this obsessively as a kid and I still adore it. 
Measure of gratitude: Enormous. Thank you. 

John Corigliano
Circus Maximus (University of Texas Wind Ensemble, Jerry Junkin)

I performed in the Canadian premiere of this symphony for wind ensemble. It was a great experience in the end, albeit a little stressful during the process because Corigliano was actually there and our Northern Albertan university wind ensemble was about as good as you’d expect. The piece is kind of dumb in retrospect, but ~memories~. 
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you. 

Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet
The Juliet Letters

An uneven recording I liberated from work. I feel like more people should listen to it, if only because “Taking My Life in Your Hands” is maybe the best Elvis Costello song. I could listen to it ten times in a row, and I’m sure I have. The rest I could take or leave. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you.

The Survivors: Part Two

Ludwig van Beethoven
Nine Symphonies (Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic, 1963)
Symphonies Nos. 4 & 7 (Joshua Bell, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields)
Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 (Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic, 1982-83)
Complete Overtures (David Zinman, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich)
Complete String Quartets (Emerson String Quartet)

Beethoven is kind of a problem because his legacy is louder than his music. It’s basically impossible to hear the fifth and ninth symphonies with fresh ears. For me, it’s hard to hear Beethoven without hearing a billion conflicting Beethovens at once, including the pop culture grump, the one who’s an unwitting combatant in the culture war around the canon, and somewhere in there the actual guy who wrote this music. But there are works in there that carve a detour past all of that, most notably the late string quartets. If you dangled me off the edge of a cliff and asked me what’s my favourite single movement from a classical work, I’d almost certainly go with the third movement from Beethoven’s Op. 132: a hymn of thanksgiving so gracious and human that it couldn’t possibly come from a mere icon. 
Measure of gratitude: Immense. Thank you.

Bix Beiderbecke
In A Mist

Fort McMurray was a weirdly good place to learn about jazz. Briefly I played piano in a combo at the local college and I remember our instructor pulling Bix off the shelves, flipping past all the tracks where he plays trumpet, his main instrument, and settling on “In A Mist.” It’s a lovely parlour piano confection: jazz with a hint of Debussy. I miss those opportunities to listen closely to music as a group. That said, I haven’t spent much time with Bix Beiderbecke since high school. 
Measure of gratitude: Moderate. Thank you. 

Adrian Belew
Side Four

I should acknowledge that there are a few discs among the Survivors that are destined to survive the next cull as well. My mother will likely make a home for the Beatles, etc. And my autographed copy of this live album by Adrian Belew isn’t going anywhere. I saw Belew live when I was eighteen, possibly my first non-all-ages concert. Clearly, I was the youngest one there. He was playing with a brother/sister rhythm section who were barely older than I was. At the signing table I told Belew it was the best concert I’d ever seen, but somebody distracted him just as I said it and he never responded. I think about that during every solo on Remain in Light. Great live album, though. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim
West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

It is reasonably well known at this point that I was a theatre kid. Aside from Dream Theater I daresay my most shameful childhood enthusiasm was Andrew Lloyd Webber. There are only three musicals among the Survivors, none of which are by him. A great many cast albums were culled. The ones that made it through are truly extraordinary, none more so than West Side Story, a show that is not overrated. The generation of Broadway blockbusters that followed this are frequently simplistic and manipulative. Bernstein’s music, by contrast, is complex and thorny. It’s easy to forget that because of how familiar it is. 
Measure of gratitude: Substantial. Thank you. 

Mirosław Jacek Błaszczyk
Henryk & Mikołaj Górecki (with Silesian Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, etc.)

It really ought to be filed under ‘G,’ but it is technically a disc by multiple composers: Henryk Górecki and his lesser known son. I have seldom revisited the bulk of this recording, but Górecki senior’s piano concerto has become a real favourite, and I wouldn’t have heard it had I not liberated this disc from my workplace. 
Measure of gratitude: Moderate. Thank you. 

David Bowie
Ziggy Stardust
Aladdin Sane

David Bowie has been one of my primary obsessions of the last few years, rivalled only by the Mountain Goats, Joanna Newsom and my perpetual fascination with Brian Eno. It’s odd to think back on the time when I first heard these CDs, nearly a decade ago at the height of my CD buying, and to think that I merely liked them. That Low didn’t immediately strike me as music I couldn’t live without. That “Starman” was not the sound of a whole generation’s euphoria echoing across the decades, but just a decent tune. It’s reassuring to know that kind of growth is possible. 
Measure of gratitude: Unimaginably large. Thank you. 

Sir Adrian Boult
Brahms/Mendelssohn (with BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)

One thing I’ve learned since my early days of classical CD collecting is that the standard for symphonic playing is higher today than in anybody’s idea of a long-past “golden age.” This isn’t one of the CDs I bought. This one came to me by chance. But it’s a scratchy old thing where the playing, insofar as you can hear it, is only okay. Orchestras today play more in tune, more together and with greater focus and intensity, not to mention that they’re recorded in better sound. Give me Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s Mendelssohn 4 any day over this.
Measure of gratitude: Negligible. Thank you. 

Johannes Brahms
Symphonies Nos. 1-4 etc. (Wolfgang Sawallisch, London Symphony Orchestra)
Ein Deutsches Requiem (John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir, Orchestra Revolutionnaire)

When I bought these discs, Brahms was a firmly third-tier composer to me. Since then he’s become one of my few truly essential canonical composers. The Brahms I love is the bittersweet old man of the late piano pieces: music filled with regret and yearning. Tossed-off trifles that are more profound and sincere than any of his fussier large-scale works. When I learned about Brahms in my music history classes, we learned about him as a composer who was consciously standing in the shadow of Beethoven. It’s easy to hear that version of Brahms in his first symphony, which is naturally what we were assigned for listening homework. But since then I’ve come to think of Brahms as the only composer in the canon whose legacy has been harmed rather than bolstered by this kind of “great man” history. When you stand him up next to Beethoven, he comes up short, because he was a totally different kind of composer. At his best, he wasn’t a composer of huge gestures and epic themes–he was a composer of small, intimate, interior music. The Deutsches Requiem is the one larger work where he’s able to conjure the grace and generosity that I love in those late piano pieces. But the symphonies, aside from the second, still leave me cold. So, parsing my gratitude towards these particular discs is a challenge. Let’s go with this: 
Measure of gratitude: Complicated. Thank you. 

Brooklyn Rider
A Walking Fire

Perhaps the best album I ever stole from work. Brooklyn Rider is an oddly named string quartet that makes albums that sound like rock records. The mics are close, the playing is frequently aggressive and a fair bit of the music is new. This has Bartók on it, but that’s hardly the point. The highlight is Ljova’s piece Culai, inspired by a magnificent old folk fiddler. It has that rare quality in classical music, where I couldn’t imagine it played by another ensemble. (Also I didn’t steal it, I was encouraged to take it. But it feels a bit like theft, because somebody sent it somewhere, not thinking it would end up with me.)
Measure of gratitude: Significant. Thank you.

Clifford Brown and Max Roach
Clifford Brown and Max Roach

There was a moment in my trumpet playing days when I realized I’d made a terrible mistake. I went to music school thinking I’d learn how to play many different kinds of music, only to realize that when you learn music at a university it’s all classical, all the time. I really should have done more research. This realization came less than a semester into my program and I absolutely could have pulled the ripcord in retrospect, but it didn’t seem like an option at the time. So, I collected and avidly listened to jazz, with a sense of profound longing. Today I feel absolutely no attachment to the classical solo rep I learned for the trumpet. But when I hear Clifford Brown, I still wish I could do that. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Dave Brubeck
Time Out

My main music discovery trend in high school was trying to familiarize myself with the standards of the genres I was into, however niche those genres were. I don’t know where my obsession with canons came from, but it goes back all the way. Time Out is perhaps my least favourite of the S-tier jazz albums. Give me Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme or Mingus Ah Um any day over this. The four-disc budget set Quadromania actually has some stuff I remember fondly. I haven’t listened to it in years, but the second I pulled it off the shelf just now the bassline to “Tritonis” started playing in my head. 
Measure of gratitude: Small, but not offensively so. Thank you. 

Anton Bruckner
Symphony No. 9 (Carl Maria Giulini, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra)

Bruckner is a composer I’ve frequently claimed not to like. It’s a claim I’ve had to make fairly often as a Mahler fan, because the two of them seem to come as a package deal for lots of classical music people. I can see why: they’re both Romantic symphonists who like big orchestras and loud climaxes. But Mahler has a gift for melody and a subtle way of using his massive orchestras that I don’t hear in Bruckner. But I ought to note that there’s only one Bruckner symphony that I’ve really put the time and effort into “getting,” his ninth, and I actually do like that one. Maybe my early thirties will be my Bruckner era, the way my early twenties were all about Mahler. That said: I don’t feel like this symphony needs to be any longer than it is, and it wasn’t even finished. 
Measure of gratitude: Moderate. Thank you. 

Kate Bush
50 Words for Snow
Director’s Cut (Collector’s Edition)
Before the Dawn

My CD shelves contain an idiosyncratic selection of works by the greatest living songwriter, but it’s a body of work that shows her in a compelling light. The albums that make the strongest argument for Kate Bush being the greatest living songwriter are probably The Dreaming and Hounds of Love, and they make two subtly different arguments. The Dreaming argues for Kate Bush as a superior, alien presence at the margins of pop music. Hounds of Love argues that she’s the strangest mainstream pop sensation of all time. For reasons I’m honestly not certain of, I only have music from after those two albums on CD. This collection contains all of her major releases since then (the collector’s edition of Director’s Cut comes packaged with The Sensual World and The Red Shoes). Every single one of these albums is uneven, but they’re the kind of uneven that I find interesting. I’ve always liked 50 Words for Snow more than I think most people do. It’s a spare, slow-moving album with a couple of songs towards the end that strain to fill the time. But it’s a big swing, and a completely new direction that came out of nowhere. Kate Bush trained me to expect this. Mostly I’m disappointed, but never by her. 
Measure of gratitude: Gigantic. Thank you.

The Survivors: Part One

A few years ago I went home to Fort McMurray and came back to Vancouver with many boxes of my old stuff, including a frankly unthinkable number of CDs. From the ages of about 12 to 23 I spent a pretty spectacular amount of my parents’ money on these things, and eventually an almost as spectacular amount of my own. Do I regret this? What would be the point? The truth is, I think I learned an enormous amount from all that dedicated searching and focussed listening. I don’t know if I’d be able to do the work I’ve done over the last few years without that experience. 

But things change, don’t they? I’ve taken up vinyl collecting because I am a complete reprobate, and I have an Apple Music subscription even though I know that streaming services are bad and wrong. These days, the only device I own that can actually play CDs is a MacBook that barely boots up. It feels inappropriate somehow to be surrounded by them. I just did a quick count, counting double albums as two and all the discs in box sets separately, etc. I’m sure I wasn’t completely accurate but I have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 624 discs here, none of which I will ever play again. I’m beginning to feel like it’s time to find these discs a new home. 

In fact, I offloaded perhaps a third of my collection as soon as I got it to Vancouver. The 600-plus discs that remain here are the Survivors. Not all of them survived for the noblest of reasons. I prioritized keeping CDs with potentially useful liner notes or especially beautiful design. I evicted many wonderful albums thanks to bare bones packaging. Now my shelves are lined with strange absences and ghosts. Marvellous recitals by Horowitz and Richter didn’t take their place alongside splashier sets by fellow legends. A tepid Jon Anderson live album was allowed to stay while Olias of Sunhillow was cast out. A previously wide-ranging jazz collection is now somehow missing Louis Armstrong. No amount of pretty album art could keep Dream Theater on my shelves, but their absence is felt nevertheless. 

In retrospect, I wish I’d taken a catalogue of what I had. Now that I’m once again looking to downsize, I feel an obligation to do right by the Survivors. In the spirit of Marie Kondo, I feel I ought to thank these CDs before I bid them farewell. So: in this series I’m going to go through every CD I still own, alphabetically by primary artist,* and take stock of the memory and influence I associate with each. And because I can’t resist the urge to quantify, I’ll offer a “measure of gratitude” for every artist before thanking them and sending them on their way. 

Claudio Abbado 
Vivaldi/Haydn (with Gidon Kremer, Adolph Herseth, etc.)

I’ve filed this under Abbado because of the rules,* but I bought it because of Adoph Herseth. Once upon a time, though few believe it now, I wanted to be a professional trumpet player. ‘Bud’ Herseth was the longtime principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and a person I was primed to idolize by every authority figure in my life. The fact remains that no matter how well he plays it, the Haydn trumpet concerto is kind of a boring piece of music. It’s also probably the most revered piece of solo music written for that instrument, which is why I don’t play it anymore. 
Measure of gratitude: Moderate. Thank you. 

Allpa Kallpa
Recuerdo a Chico Mendes

Growing up in Fort McMurray, our long weekend getaway of choice was to drive five hours south to Edmonton, the closest proper city. I loved the West Edmonton Mall. Not the stores, mind you, but everything else about it: the kitschy spectacles scattered through the mall’s massive corridors. The pirate ship, the whale, the fire-breathing dragon, the ice rink, the elaborate mini-golf course. And the bands who would occasionally perform by the escalators up to the movie theatre. Allpa Kallpa was one of them, an Andean pan flute ensemble. I harangued my parents to buy their CD and never listened to it. Years later I did. I feel like someday I might decide to explore the music of the Andes further, and when I do it will be because of a hazy memory of Allpa Kallpa at the West Edmonton Mall. It will not be because of this CD specifically. 
Measure of gratitude: Negligible. Thank you.

Maurice André
Trumpet Concertos (with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra)

Adolph Herseth (see Claudio Abbado) may have been my various mentors’ favourite symphonic trumpeter. But as a soloist there was nobody who could beat Maurice André. This recording with the most prestigious conductor/orchestra combo of their day is more entertaining than a whole record of trumpet concertos ought to be because of André’s jolly, seemingly effortless playing. I haven’t listened to it for years but maybe I should. One of the few trumpet recordings I’d recommend to people who don’t play the trumpet. 
Measure of gratitude: Moderate. Thank you. 

Ian Anderson
Thick as a Brick 2

Ian Anderson was of course the frontman, singer, songwriter and flautist of Jethro Tull. I have already written, self-indulgently and at length, about what Jethro Tull meant to me growing up. I may have called them “the band that introduced me to myself,” and I deeply regret being the sort of person who would say things like that in a public forum. Nevertheless, here I am again, writing self-indulgently and at length about my music collection. The fact that I have this tendency is probably Jethro Tull’s fault. Self-indulgence and length are two qualities I learned to admire thanks to Jethro Tull, and particularly to Thick as a Brick. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on that when we get to letter ‘J.’ But for now the subject at hand is Ian Anderson’s solo album Thick as a Brick 2, about which I have very little to say. It struck me as a cash grab at the time: the sort of thing you release when your best and most popular music is several decades behind you and you need a gimmick to drive some record sales. I haven’t listened to it for nearly a decade, and I’m not as upset about it now as I was then. Still, I remember it as a wilful misunderstanding of what was interesting and great about one of my favourite albums ever.
Measure of gratitude: Negative gratitude. Wish I’d never heard it. Thank you.

Jon Anderson
Live from La La Land

Another day, another solo album by a prog rock frontman called Anderson. The way I feel about this is similar to TAAB2 (see above) in the sense that it is a document of faded glory. Anderson sounds fine on this live recording, but I can’t help associating it with the one time I saw him live. My ex bought the tickets as a gift for my 19th birthday. It was at a casino in Edmonton, which is depressing in itself. Worse, Anderson was ill at the time and had been hospitalized for respiratory problems the previous evening. He could only manage about twenty minutes onstage. Frankly he sounded great, but he was visibly about to fall asleep. Around this time, his old band Yes was touring with the singer from a Yes tribute band in his place. This was around the time I realized that it may have been a mistake to exclusively admire musicians who started their careers twenty to three hundred years before my birth. 
Measure of gratitude: Negligible. Thank you. 

Johann Sebastian Bach
Sacred Masterpieces (John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists)
The Art of Fugue/Musical Offering (Sir Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields)
A State of Wonder (Glenn Gould, complete Goldberg Variations, 1955 and 1981)

The most substantial item in my small Bach collection is the John Eliot Gardiner set, which is a budget-priced 22-disc box. By disc quantity, it’s the largest single item on my shelves. I’ve only listened to most of it once. It was a Christmas gift, and I spent a big chunk of one winter holiday listening through the discs sequentially, like a list of chores. There is music I adore here, like the final chorus of the Christmas Oratorio, the opening chorus of the St. John Passion and the Agnus Dei from the Mass in B Minor. But the cantatas all blend together after a while, no doubt partially because of the insane, dutiful way I first listened to them. I have been on the precipice of loving this music for years, without ever quite getting there. The Bach I love is smaller in scale and more conceptual, like the Musical Offering. I also love the version of Bach that Glenn Gould adopted as a muse. Gould’s Bach, including but not limited to these famous Goldberg Variations recordings, is more exciting to me than anybody else’s. 
Measure of gratitude: Substantial. Thank you. 

Syd Barrett
The Madcap Laughs

There are two Syd Barretts floating around the periphery of “classic rock.” One of them is the tragic hero of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here: a distant memory, framed in terms of the success his band achieved after they left him behind. The other is contained on these solo records, where he isn’t merely a legend told by an unreliable narrator but an actual material presence to accept on his own terms. This Syd Barrett is not a tragic figure, though the studio banter on The Madcap Laughs seems like it’s trying to mould him into one. He is a brilliant, intuitive songwriter whose unforced eccentricity unlocked a door that David Bowie and Kate Bush walked through. There’s nothing like this.
Measure of gratitude: Enormous. Thank you. 

Béla Bartók
Concerto for Orchestra/Music for Strings etc. (Esa-Pekka Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic)

Both works on this disc have to contend with the troubling history of my music education, but astonishingly enough I have positive associations with both of them. I learned the first trumpet part of the Concerto for Orchestra for an exam, and the first movement of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was a central plank of one of my music theory courses. The Concerto is great fun to play, so much that I suspect Bartók intentionally wrote it with that in mind. And that opening movement of Music for Strings is modernism at its expressive best: the sort of music that reveals more of itself to adore when you pick it apart. In general I enjoy classical music less than I did when I bought this, but Bartók is one of the few composers that I’ve actually come to enjoy more. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Howard Bashaw
Hard Rubber, Hard Elastic

I performed one of the works on this disc in Edmonton, Music for Trumpet and Piano, with Howard Bashaw’s input. That was actually a pretty great experience. It’s a great piece too, performed on this recording by one of my teachers, Russell Whitehead. It’s far from the best thing on this recording though: that’s Three Movements for the Hard Rubber Orchestra, written for a Vancouver-based ensemble that I’ve heard more from since moving to this city. I listen to that work pretty frequently. Bashaw is a bit of a composer’s composer, but I really think more people ought to give this a shot. It’s heady, but it’s also playful and energetic. 
Measure of gratitude: Substantial. Thank you. 

David Bates
Handel/Vivaldi: Dixit Dominus (with La Nuova Musica, Lucy Crowe)

This is the first of many CDs we’ll come to that I brought home from work when work didn’t need them. It’s a pair of good performances of Baroque works, of which the Vivaldi is especially interesting because it was only recently determined to be by Vivaldi. I really don’t have much more to say about this than that. It’s a “good classical recording,” of which I have many that I don’t especially care about. 
Measure of gratitude: Negligible. Thank you. 

The Beach Boys
Pet Sounds

I’m conscious of the fact that this collection really makes me seem a good 40 years older than I am. I feel like for lots of kids, discovering music is at least partially a way of differentiating themselves from their parents. I wasn’t an especially rebellious child. My musical discoveries were mainly from my parents’ generation, but with the aid of the internet. Pet Sounds was one of the absences from my parents’ collection that I noticed first, and I rectified it myself. Nowadays it’s hard to talk about it without veering into either the breathless boomer enthusiasm for it or the mild exasperation of later cohorts. I tend towards the former. If you can look past the hype and the ambition, you’ll find a warm and generous pop album that ought to be loved more and admired less. 
Measure of gratitude: Substantial. Thank you. 

The Beatles
The Beatles in Mono (13-disc box)
Yellow Submarine
Let It Be
Let It Be (Naked)
Abbey Road
Past Masters

You will have noted some ambivalence in the above remarks on the Beach Boys. I can’t bring myself to feel that same ambivalence towards the Beatles. I adore them unambiguously. They are as suffocatingly acclaimed in their milieu as the next artist on this alphabetical list is in his. (One guess.) But that apparently doesn’t matter to me at all. I love the Beatles so much it ruined my life. When I discovered them at age ten or whatever, they were the only band that meant as much to everybody else as they did to me. A few years back I used to joke that all I wanted was for every single person in the world to love me more than they loved anything else. Happily I’ve gotten over that, but it was the Beatles’ fault. 
Measure of gratitude: Incalculably vast. Thank you.


*This list is alphabetical by “primary artist,” which is defined as the top element on this list that is applicable to the whole disc:

  • Band name
  • Solo artist surname
  • Composer
  • Chamber Ensemble
  • Soloist
  • Conductor
  • Orchestra